The deck was the stuff of rumor, of legend: the largest deck in all of Seattle, right in the middle of downtown, with metropolitan views to amaze and, oddly, free tacos at happy hour. With the advent of warm weather, someone would inevitably mention it, yet no one had actually ever been there. And even though the venue was known—the Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue—the location was elusive.
The downtown Seattle Red Lion is camouflaged by its own immense blandness. It is effectively invisible, despite housing a pub called the Elephant and Castle at ground level. (While much of the pub is sunk into a pit, the entrance is nonetheless right there on Fifth, complete with its own ostensibly eye-catching red London-style phone booth.)
The Terrace Garden is on the fifth floor, in the back. In the elevator, an older gentleman in dapper nautical attire wears a laminated tag around his neck. He is in town for Sangerfest, the annual grand concert of the Norwegian Singers Association of America, and he is very enthused about it. Sadly, he is not bound for the Terrace Garden's patio.
Entrance to the patio is through the Terrace Garden restaurant, a study in dated up-market hotel elegance, all generically tasteful furnishings and patterned carpet. Room service carts await their marching orders along a wall. The free tacos are self-serve, buffet style; a large silver orb standing on silver legs offers ground beef.
Outside, the potted foliage is pretty and well kept, the décor pleasantly minimal. Though a bass-heavy soundtrack plays through damaged-sounding speakers and there's a capacity crowd, a certain civilized hush prevails. Time seems to stop; the temperature happens to be perfect for human beings. The deck is indeed large, and lodged as it is in a canyon of buildings, it affords late-afternoon shade as well as a sense of remove from the city while being singularly at the center of it. The pencil-shaped Rainier Tower punctuates the vista to the south; Macy's is visible to the north; a gully between structures to the west offers a slice of the Sound, its ferries improbably picturesque. To the east loom the upper stories of the Red Lion itself, the drapes in nearly all the windows drawn like sleeping eyes.
The spiral-bound drink menu features studio photos of various colorful beverages coated with perfect condensation. Categories include Merry Mixtures (such as Twisted Texas Tea) and Tropical Fantasies (a strawberry daiquiri "made with Ocean Spray® strawberry puree"). Foreign businessmen hold tall, curvy glasses filled with electric-blue liquid garnished with pineapple and cherry, sipped through neon straws.
On the absurdly lovely water in the distance, a parasailer takes off silently and moves slowly out of view.
Happy hour at the Terrace Garden (1415 Fifth Ave, fifth floor, 971-8010) is from 4–8 pm Monday–Friday.